The camping expert's kit list for a lightweight backpacking adventure
For the backpacking novice, it is vital that you get the right gear.
You might already have a loft full of family camping equipment, but the kit you will need for lightweight camping is completely different.
Remember you will have to carry your equipment around on your back all day, so it has to be light, compact and easy to pack away.
But even if you cut out the non-essentials from your lightweight camping kit, you'll still want to be as comfortable as possible, so it's a question of getting the balance between weight and comfort right
To give you an idea of what sort of gear to pack, Camping magazine editor Iain Duff opens up his rucksack and reveals his lightweight camping kit list...
Hardcore backpackers will probably be horrified at the amount of gear I have listed here. For the ultralight enthusiast, every gram counts, to the extent that they will actually cut the handle of their toothbrush to make their kit a tiny bit lighter.
But for me, being comfortable is the key thing. Yes, it's important to cut back on weight as much as possible, but personally I am happy to carry a bit more in my rucksack if it means I'm able to enjoy a hearty meal and a good night's sleep when I reach the campsite.
Some wild campers will happily sleep in a bivy or under a tarp, but personally I prefer the security and warmth of a real tent.
My current shelter of choice is the Sierra Designs Meteor 3000. It costs around £250, weighs just over 2kg and is a two-berth model, which I find suits me best, as I prefer to have a bit more room in the tent.
I also have my trusty MSR Hubba Hubba, which I've been using for a few yeas. It's light, easy to pitch and stable – and has a great name!
After the tent, your rucksack will probably be your next big buy. For a weekend’s camping, something with a capacity between 50 and 60 litres should be ideal.
I have a Fjallraven Kaipak 58, which, at £200+, was not cheap, but it's made from a robust, heavy duty fabric which hopefully will last me a lifetime. I really like its simple, classic design.
Personally I prefer rectangular shaped sleeping bags rather than ‘mummy’ bags but in the lightweight market they are difficult to come by. So I've been using a Kathmandu Comet sleeping bag for several years – a mummy style with a duck down fill that makes it warm but very light.
I did pick up a Forclaz 10 rectangular-shaped bag from Decathlon in late 2019 - it cost under £20 so was a bit of a bargain and, although it's a bit bulky and takes up more space than I'd like, it weighs in at an impressive 1kg.
Sleeping on the ground might be tempting to keep weight down, but a sleeping mat or air mattress is essential for a comfortable, warm night’s sleep. My Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (£150) is incredibly light and compact so is perfect for backpacking trips. Rolled up and packed away into its stuff sack it takes up hardly any space and weighs less than a can of Coke.
After a day on the trail, you might be tempted to visit a local pub for your meals if there's one near your campsite, but if not you'll need to cook your own food and at the very least you’ll still want to boil water for a morning cuppa, so a lightweight stove is a must.
I've been using the Coleman F1 Lite for a few years – it's a tiny, but relatively powerful, stove that cost just £25, and has served me well. It screws onto a gas canister and folds away into its own little bag. Because it doesn’t have an Piezo ignition I do need to remember matches.
For cooking I take a lightweight MSR ceramic solo pot; you can fry an egg in it without having to use oil. Its 1.3 litre capacity is plenty for meals for one.
Ready-made meals are easy to cook, come in a huge variety of dishes (breakfasts, dinners and puddings) and can be surprisingly tasty. Firepot and Summit To Eat are two of my favourites but most are pretty good. For eating, I take a good old Light My Fire spork. It's a Scandinavian design classic, comprising of fork, spoon and knife and they only cost a couple of pounds each.
I've admired BioLite products since they launched their first stove several years ago. They have a reputation for developing sleek-looking kit that performs brilliantly – and the BioLite HeadLamp 200 is no exception. A head torch is a camping essential but to be honest they are not always the most stylish or comfortable things to wear. BioLite have created a modern, slimline headlamp, which is incredibly comfy, really light and provides a superb beam of light. I love it.
I also pack a BioLite Travelight 135 lantern for using in the tent at night. It's only about the size of a credit card, but has a regular 100-lumen lantern, a red night-light and emergency strobe. It comes with a stand and can even be used to give your phone a quick charge, which is handy.
Water is heavy to carry so you will want to be camped near a water source. If you're on a campsite it shouldn't be a problem but if you're wild camping or need to refill your drinks bottle on the move, you might need to take it from a natural source, which can be risky.
Running water from a river or stream is generally cleaner than still, but either way you should filter or boil any water before drinking. I have a LifeSaver Liberty bottle – as used by the British Army and Oxfam – which can be used as either a personal drinking bottle or an in-line filter to pump clean water into other bottles and containers.
MULTI TOOL/POCKET KNIFE
Every camper needs a multi-tool for all those fiddly jobs that always seem to need to be done. The Free P4 from Leatherman is a virtual toolbox in your pocket that should equip you for just about anything on a lightweight camping trip. But even with a mind-boggling 21 tools, it weighs in at just 250g.
SOLAR POWER BANK
We rely so much on our smartphones for all sorts of reasons these days, so keeping them topped up is vital. When you're on the move, off-grid a portable power bank is an essential. I use a solar powered charger; my Freeloader iSIS can power up a phone three times on one charge.
Taking a fluffy cotton towel on a lightweight camping trip is not really an option thanks to the weight and difficulty in getting it dry after use. So a microfibre towel is an essential – and I use the MSR Packtowl Ultralite XL. Just as absorbent as a real towel but dries instantly and is a fraction of the size and weight.
FIRST AID KIT
A first aid kit is the one piece of camping gear you never want to use – but you need to know you can rely on it in the worst case scenario. Thankfully my AMK Mountain Backpacking kit remains unused but I know it's always there if I need it, with a selection of bandages, a trauma pad to stop bleeding, dressings, adhesive tape and a splinter removal tool.
It’s no secret that I love camping and outdoor gear that has multiple uses. As the old shampoo ad said: “Take two bottles into the shower? Not me!” The Robens Ravenglass T7 is perfect for walkers who love photography – it’s a hiking pole that can also be used as a monopod for a DSLR and as a selfie stick, so there’s no need to carry extra equipment with you when you head out to capture those perfect Instagram images!
Some walkers prefer to use two poles when they're on the trail, but I'm happy with one. It just gives enough support on rugged ground.
- Wet wipes/hand cleaning gel
- Insect repellent/sunscreen
- Toilet paper
- Washing-up liquid and scrubber
- Map and compass
- Tick removal tool
- Fire lighter
- Waterproof stuff sack
- Trowel (for digging a latrine)
- Pocket radio
Your choice of clothing when lightweight camping is about staying dry and at the right temperature, which will obviously be determined by the time of year. As a minimum, during spring or summer, you’ll need:
- A base layer
- A fleece
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Walking boots or shoes suitable for the terrain
- A hat (either for warmth or sun protection)
Want more excellent information and advice about lightweight camping and backpacking?
Our complete guide to wild backpack camping adventures is full of great advice.
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